CRACK IT Challenge winners awarded £4.9 million to further their research

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CRACK IT Challenge winners awarded £4.9 million to further their research

NC3Rs Press Release, September 4, 2014; reprinted with permission
The NC3Rs open innovation platform, CRACK IT, has awarded £4.9 million in its annual challenge-led competition, run in collaboration with the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, formerly known as the Technology Strategy Board.

CRACK IT Challenges is a two-phase competition that funds collaborations between industry, academics and SMEs to solve problems related to the 3Rs, leading to new products or improved business processes. Large pharmaceutical and chemical industries act as ‘Sponsors,’ defining relevant Challenges and providing in-kind contributions, such as access to data, compounds or equipment. In Phase 1 several teams are selected to carry out proof-of-concept studies for each Challenge, but only one team for each Challenge will receive the funding to deliver the full Challenge in Phase 2.

Recently, the Phase 1 CRACK IT Challenge teams from 2013 went head-to-head in ‘Dragons’ Den- style’ interviews. The winner of each Challenge was awarded up to a possible £1 million investment to complete Phase 2.

Today we announce that the five winning teams proceeding to Phase 2 are led by: Dr Selina Wray from UCL (University College London) for UnTangle; Professor Chris Denning from the University of Nottingham for InPulse; Dr Ben Forbes from King’s College London for Inhalation Translation; Dr Martijn Wilmer from the Radboud University Medical Centre for NephroTube; and Professor Paul Kaye from the University of York for Virtual Infectious Disease Research.

The Challenges that the winning teams are tackling cover a wide range of scientific and business problems across different therapeutic areas, each with significant potential to replace, refine or reduce the use of animals in research.

The Virtual Infectious Disease Research Challenge is to develop a reliable computer-based model of the dynamics of infection and response within an individual host. The model is intended to help predict the efficacy of drugs, vaccines and other treatments. A typical rodent efficacy study for new antibiotics or vaccines involves approximately 100 animals per candidate drug. The use of in silico approaches to study disease biology and predict efficacy would reduce the number of animals used. The winning team are developing a computer model approach for studying leishmania infection.

Sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Roche, the NephroTube Challenge will use novel microtitre plate microfluidics developed by MIMETAS BV in The Netherlands, to build an in vitro assay that can accurately predict tubular toxic effects of drug candidates in the kidneys. The model focuses on replicating the cellular architecture of the kidney tubule, as this is a major site of potential drug-induced nephrotoxicity. Having established the potential utility in Phase I, with a limited subset of known nephrotoxicants, the team will expand upon this in Phase II by establishing a translational correlation between rodent and human based systems on a larger compound set. If toxic effects can be identified early in the drug development process, then animal testing can be avoided for drug candidates that would be destined to fail later in the development process owing to toxicity.

In partnership with Alzheimer’s Research UK, Lilly and Janssen, the UnTangle Challenge competition winners will develop a human stem cell-derived neuronal assay to study the spread of the tau protein pathology in Alzheimer’s disease, and also predict the efficacy and any unexpected side effects of new drugs targeting tau. The human tissue model will be more reflective of human disease than animal models, and will also have the potential to reduce the number of animals needed for research.

Phase 2 winner for Virtual Infectious Disease Challenge, Professor Paul Kaye from The University of York said: “Our research is focused on trying to find new ways to treat and prevent leishmaniasis, one of the most important neglected diseases of poverty. This award from CRACK IT will allow us to develop a ‘virtual laboratory,’ where we and others can rapidly conduct drug trials in silico and then share the results with researchers across the world. Our computational approach will not only significantly reduce the number of animals needed to develop new drugs, but also help doctors decide how to use the few drugs they have to best effect in patients.”

Editor’s note: the 2014 CRACK IT Challenges have been announced; details can be found here.